Sunday, August 8, 2010

Earl Scruggs: His Family and Friends (1972)

I've just finished watching the wonderful 1972 documentary Earl Scruggs: His Family and Friends. The movie follows Earl around as he plays with a variety of different music stars, very much in the vein of The Earl Scruggs Revue shows.

The show opens with Earl, his sons Randy and Gary and Bob Dylan all playing together, first on "East Virginia Blues," which Dylan sings in a fairly straightforward voice and which sounds really good. Then Earl asks to pick "Nashville Skyline Rag," and it's a bit awkward to watch Dylan, who doesn't seem to quite be able to jump into the song the way that Earl and the boys do.

That's not a problem in the next scene, where Earl and Randy are picking in Doc Watson's backyard, along with Merle Watson. Doc says, "Let's do 'John Hardy,'" and everyone just jumps right into it, perfectly in time and ready to burn through their solo when their turn comes up. The level of musicianship just makes my jaw drop in awe!

And then we're in Flint Hill, North Carolina, and Earl has dragged the Morris Brothers, Zeke and Wiley, away from their auto repair shop to play some music with him for the first time in years. They run through their classic "Salty Dog" without a hitch, play along with Earl on "Flint Hill Special" and then bust out a really beautiful version of "On Top of Old Smokey," which Wiley croons in grand fashion.

Things get a little more modern as Earl joins The Byrds for two numbers, the second of which is Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere."

The movie drags a bit in the middle, although high-school-aged Randy plays a terrific version of "Black Mountain Rag" on guitar.

There's then a great scene backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. (You follow Earl to the Opry from his house -- I was surprised to see that the speed limit at the time was 75 mph!) Earl and Randy join Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, as Monroe spins out a medley of his hits -- without, it seems, having told anyone that it's a medley! Earl has no problem keeping up with the Father of Bluegrass Music though -- he knows these tricks. When Earl, Randy and Gary are on stage at the Opry, Monroe, the MC for the segment, lurks around in the background. (There's also a female piano player in the Opry band -- anyone know who that is?)

The movie concludes with an extended visit with Joan Baez. Her singing is terrific; unlike Bob Dylan, she seems to be able to hang with Earl and Randy; and she even gives us her Bob Dylan impersonation on "It Ain't Me Babe," which she sings with Randy while holding her baby. Joan charmingly talks about having a crush on Earl and describes how the first six times that they met, he would come up to her and say, "Can you sing this one...?" while picking out the opening of "Wildwood Flower." She sings a stunning version of "Love is Just a Four Letter Word."

It's a great film.

You can find nearly all of it on YouTube, it seems. I'll give you this small portion with Spanish subtitles:

1 comment:

3shells said...

This sounds wonderful. I will have to check it out. I love the youtube clip you put up here.